One Partner for Life?
The theme of marriage to one partner for life is still a favorite subject of today’s books, movies, and stage productions. We are attracted to this because of our own design; we are made for companionship, intimacy, and life-long commitment. Nevertheless, for the first time in American history, most adults now live outside of marriage. How did this happen? In his 2009 article, “Are We Really No Longer a Christian Nation?”, Freddy Davis explains:
Up until now, we have pretty much been a Christian based on the fact that our foundational principles have been Christian principles. But that seems to be changing. Rather than a society based on the rule of law, we are moving toward a society based on the rule of those in power. Rather than the private ownership of property, we are moving toward state ownership. Rather than individual freedom, we are moving toward the primacy of the collective. Rather than understanding man as a fallen creature, we are moving toward a belief that man is essentially good. Rather than impartial justice, we are moving toward social justice based on perceived inequities from history.
Western culture is currently experiencing a rapid moral decline because, we progressively rejecting God’s ways—and substituting man and his ways. The Bible is clear – Israel fell because she rejected God’s covenant. It appears that Ancient Egypt, a pagan empire, came to an end as Christianity took root, and the collapse of Rome was also at least partially due to moral corruption. History continues to prove to us all that societies built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s covenant thrive, and those that are built on the sand of pagan ideology eventually collapse. As far as God is concerned, strong societies are built through Godly covenantal marriages and families. In this light, Matthew [7:24]-27 might be paraphrased this way, “Every nation (or family) who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . but that society (or family) did not fall because it had been founded on the rock.” So, what is covenant and how does it work?
What is Covenant?
The following is our understanding of covenant along with its application to marriage based on Ray Sutton’s book, That You May Prosper: All God-centered covenants, including marriage, are based the following 5 points:
- Transcendence: God’s greatness and love are beyond our comprehension, yet he is eminent—so close that he knows our every thought. God is outside of time, yet he lovingly relates to us within our limited frame of reference. He is distinct from us, yet we are made in his image--similar to him in personality, reasoning, and emotion. Though he is the originator and sustainer of everything that exists, he gives us free will and desires to co-labor with us. The rejection of God’s interpretation of life leads to negative consequences, but the acceptance of his ways leads to great blessing. He doesn’t revolve around us; it is we who revolve around him. When it comes to marriage—he is the inventor; it only works as he intends if we do it on his terms. Above all, we must realize that we can only experience life as God intends through his transcendent power! Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.”
- Hierarchy: Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the way that God lovingly reaches out to us; it’s heaven coming down and manifesting on the earth, God speaking a word and bringing it to pass. This is what we call hierarchy, the way of delegated authority. Biblical hierarchy is the idea that one represents others. (Our founding fathers used this very idea when the U.S. Constitution was written—the idea of representation.) This principle makes everyone accountable to someone—and it still holds true in the marriage relationship. Though husband and wife are equal, with neither being superior to the other, God has designated certain roles for them both. God delegates authority to the husband, as the loving head, and the husband in turn delegates authority to his wife. The husband must discern what God is saying for the family as he listens to his wife’s needs, and the wife is responsible to submit to the loving leadership of her husband.
- Ethics: History shows what happens when human beings obey God’s law, as well as what happens when they don’t. This is much more than external obedience; it’s also about motivations. Have you ever observed a child who was obeying on the outside, but standing up on the inside? When it comes right down to it, God’s Word is clear that anything we do that does not proceed from a heart of faith is sinful, and therefore cannot please God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Furthermore, it is not enough just to obey the law with proper motives, God’s law must be correctly applied in each situation. That is where we need the Holy Spirit’s help. In John [16:13], Jesus tells us, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” How can we possibly know how to apply God’s truth without the Spirit’s help? This is exactly why daily communion with God is so important. As you face important decisions in future, find out what God’s Word says about the matter, then pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to apply the truth.
Meg and I recently had a decision to make regarding church ministry. We were asked if we would be willing to volunteer to lead a table group for 7 weeks and to bring people with us to the dinner. Obviously, there was nothing in God’s Word prohibiting us from doing that; in fact, that are many scriptures we could find that would encourage it. But after we took some time to prayerfully look at all that was going on in our lives at the time, we decided to let the pastor know that we were going to take a pass on that opportunity—at least for the time being. We’ve learned in the past—sometimes the hard way—that it is not always a good idea to say yes to everything you are asked to do. That’s being a man-pleaser instead of a God-pleaser. It is so important to discern whether or not you (and your spouse) have a peace about a particular course of action. Colossians [3:15] says, “. . . And the let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. . .”
- Sanctions: These are the effects of our obedience to God’s laws. There are always positive and negative consequences for our actions. Of course, we all want instant rewards, but blessings don’t come without the embracing of discipline. In his book, That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton writes, “The way of covenant is: judgment first and success later. Nothing is instant. If you want to build a mud hut, it takes a day. If you want to build a cathedral, it takes a century. If you want to build a civilization, it takes generations. . . “ We would add—if you want to build a marriage, it takes a willingness to receive instruction and correction. It also takes a lot of advance preparation—which is why you are reading this book right now! You are embracing the discipline it takes to build a successful marriage, either one you are looking forward to in the future, or one you are currently in. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you continue learning and refuse to give up.
- Continuity: God sees our lives in the context of his story—and we must never cut ourselves off from history lest we end up fighting the same battles over and over again. The basis of continuity is the Word of God, the only thing that never changes. Discipleship is the process by which we and our children are educated through that Word. Without this continuing process, civilization cannot be maintained, since force alone is insufficient. The founding fathers of our own country (the United States) knew this principle well. In writing our constitution, they made the assumption that the people of our land would continue to love and serve God. They knew that once the law of God is in the hearts of the people, they would not require a huge number of written laws. There are really only 10 commandments, and Jesus simplified it even more when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In today’s world, many are spurning covenantal marriage vows in favor of contracts, such as prenuptial or postnuptial agreements; but we believe that’s only because of ignorance. If people only knew there still exists a narrow, yet higher and more joyful way! Perhaps if they did, they would not so easily blunder on down society’s wide and low road leading to destruction. God’s high road is covenantal marriage. Let’s view this as a three-stranded cord of gold, purple, and white. The gold strand represents the divinity of God, the purple represents the majesty of the groom, and the white represents the purity of the bride.[ii] A covenant marriage, then, is where God, husband, and wife are joined together. Only the love of God can truly hold a couple together for life. God’s covenant is far superior to a mere contract. Family Life states, “A contract is built on distrust, limited liability, and mutual consent; whereas, covenant is founded on trust, unlimited responsibility, and permanence.”[iii] Contracts give a way out if one or both partners want to call it quits for any reason; whereas, the covenant is for life, regardless of changing circumstances or feelings; it’s “until death do us part.” Again—the covenant is not between two parties, but three—God, husband, and wife. They key to making it work is self-government through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Each one of us—husbands, wives, parents, and children—must submit ourselves to God and learn to be self-governed. That is the only way that our societies will continue in perpetuity. We must join ourselves to him as our source, learn his ways, and teach those ways to our children. Only then can we truly thrive as a nation—and that is the purpose of this book. To go deeper into this topic, we highly recommend: Your Marriage Masterpiece by Al Jansen. (It’s also available as an audio book.)
That You May Prosper, by Ray Sutton